For many years I dreamed of visiting Lisbon, Portugal – seeing the historic city, listening to the beautiful music, and eating the delicious food. I never got a chance while I was still walking, and I was afraid to go as a wheelchair/scooter user because I had heard so many negative things about the steep hills and overall lack of accessibility. Lisbon still has a long way to go when it comes to wheelchair accessibility. But with some help from either an accessible tour company, a manual wheelchair and companion, or just a portable ramp, so many of Lisbon’s magical sights can become available to wheelchair users! Here are some wheelchair accessible things I was able to see and experience during my visit to Lisbon.
***NOTE: I was on escorted tours each day during my stay in Lisbon with Adapted & Senior Tours Portugal. They provided a wheelchair accessible van for transport and my guide carried a small lightweight portable ramp to help me up single steps in my 3-wheeled scooter. I am not being compensated in any way to write this post.
1. Lisbon City Center. Much of Lisbon is very hilly, and you’ll need some sort of accessible transport to see many parts. However, the historic city center is quite flat with good (and beautiful) hand-tiled sidewalks with plenty of dropped curbs and several pedestrian-only zones. For some shopping and GREAT eating, start at Rossio Square, the liveliest square in the city, where people stop to sit and relax, or for a drink at the several atmospheric cafés with outdoor seating. Then roll down the Rua Augusta to the beautiful arch at the end. The 19th century Rua Augusta Arch (Arco da Rua Augusta) is a symbol of the Portuguese capital’s recovery from the destruction of the 1755 earthquake. The arch was officially completed, though, only in 1875. It opens up to the spacious Praça do Comércio, Lisbon’s main square, which was built on the site where the old Royal Palace used to exist before it was destroyed by the earthquake.
2. Cristo Rei (Almada). Cristo Rei is one of Lisbon’s most iconic monuments. The statue of Christ stands high above the southern banks of the Tejo Estuary, and depicts Christ with arms raised, blessing the city. Cristo Rei dates from the 1950s and its construction was in reverence for Portugal avoiding the horrors of WW2. Since its consecration in 1959 Cristo Rei has been an important Portuguese pilgrim destination and today is a major religious centre for the diocese of Setubal. Lisbon’s Cristo Rei has many similarities to the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio, and the Brazilian statue was the original inspiration. The grounds of the Cristo Rei is a sprawling complex of religious gardens and pilgrimage buildings, with the towering monument as the focal point for the entire site. These grounds are free to visit and from the cliff top viewpoints there are panoramic views, almost as good as from the top of the monument. The admission fee to the viewing platform is €6.00/€3.00 (adult/child) and an express elevator whisks visitors up the 82m. Just be aware that the fence/barrier can obstruct your view from a seated position.
3. Jerónimos Monastery (Belém). The Jerónimos Monastery, also called Hieronymites Monastery, is along with the Tower of Belém, one of the most visited sites in Lisbon. UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in 1983. The religious building was designed by the Portuguese architect Diogo de Boitaca to commemorate the return of Vasco da Gama from India. The construction began on 6 January 1501 and wasn’t completed until the seventeenth century. The Church of Santa Maria is unique in the world. It is completely different from the rest. The temple has a single nave that is held up by six beautifully sculpted columns and the church seems to go on forever. The Church houses the tombs of Vasco da Gama and Luís de Camões, a Portuguese poet and writer. There is a wheelchair ramp to help you access the church and the neighboring cloister, where the bottom level is accessible.
4. Pastéis de Belém Pastry Shop (Belém). At the beginning of the Nineteenth Century, in Belém, next to Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (the Heironymite Monastery) there was a sugar cane refinery attached to a small general store. As a result of the 1820 liberal revolution, all convents and monasteries in Portugal were shut down in 1834, the clergy and labourers expelled. In an attempt at survival, someone from the monastery offered sweet pastries for sale in the shop; pastries that rapidly became known as ‘Pastéis de Belém.’ In 1837, the baking of the “Pastéis de Belém” began in the buildings attached to the refinery, following the ancient ‘secret recipe` from the monastery. Passed on and known exclusively to the master confectioners who hand-crafted the pastries in the ‘secret room’, this recipe remained unchanged to the present day. The entire bakery and café is accessible, including a large separate toilet for wheelchair users.
5. National Palace of Queluz. The National Palace of Queluz and its historical gardens are one of the most remarkable examples of the harmonious link between landscape and palatial architecture in Portugal. They illustrate the evolution of the Court’s tastes in the 18th and 19th centuries, a period that was marked by the baroque, rococo and neoclassicism. Built in 1747 at the orders of the future King Pedro III, the consort of Queen Maria I, the Palace of Queluz was initially conceived as a summer residence, becoming the royal family’s preferred place for their leisure and entertainment. They lived there permanently from 1794 until their departure for Brazil in 1807, as a result of the French invasions. There is a metal ramp that allows wheelchair users to access the palace and the ticket counter. Please note that scooters are not allowed in the palace (for unexplained reasons). Scooter users will need to transfer to one of the palace’s manual chairs. The garden pathways are made of gravel, which may be too lose for some power chair users depending on the weather.
Make sure you can plug in your variable voltage power chair charger in Portugal! Here’s the international plug adapter I use: icyber Worldwide Travel Adapter
6. Museum of Beer (Lisbon). Six thousand years ago several civilizations around Mesopotamia started to produce beer. Portugal is an heir of that tradition. The first Museum of beer in Portugal was founded in Lisbon to celebrate this tradition alongside with Angola, Brazil, Mozambique, Cape Verde and Saint Tomé and Prince. Where beer is, there is also exquisite gastronomy and fine snacks. That’s why along with the museum there is the Beer House, a place with a unique ambience. In the Beer House the codfish cake and other snacks complement beer in perfection. Flavor and knowledge are framed with some of the best beers of the Portuguese speaking countries: SUPER BOCK, SAGRES, CUCA, BRAHMA, LAURENTINA. When visiting the Museum in the first floor the visitor can appreciate its historical relevance on the Portuguese beer heritage. Both the museum and Beer House are wheelchair accessible.
7. Museu Arqueológico do Carmo. This monastic complex was built between 1389 and 1423 by order to Nuno Alvares Pereira, a powerful knight, head of the Portuguese army (second in importance after the king). It was initially bestowed to the Carmelite order. One of the deadliest earthquakes in history struck Lisbon on All-Saint’s day, November 1, 1755. The city was all but destroyed, and the ancient Carmo convent and church lay in ruins, its library of 5000 books destroyed. Today the ruined arches of the Carmo convent stand in the middle of the rebuilt city as a reminder of the worst day in Lisbon’s history. The Carmo convent which had stood in the center of Lisbon since 1389 was intentionally left roofless as a reminder of the disaster. The property now houses the Museu Arqueológico do Carmo, or Carmo Archaeological Museum, a small archaeological museum dedicated to Portuguese history. There is an electric lift that takes wheelchair users down the stairs to the floor of the open-air ruins.
8. Oceanarium. Officially called the Oceanário de Lisboa, this attraction is not just an aquarium, but considering its size, a world in and of itself. The Oceanarium, as it’s also often referred to, is Portugal’s largest indoor aquarium, holding more than one million gallons of seawater supporting the lives of 8,000 sea creatures. Four permanent exhibits represent different habitats that hold the likes of various types of birds, fish, amphibians and mammals. Here, visitors will find the likes of sea stars and coral to penguins, puffins and sea otters and everything in between. Along with a peek into life under the sea, the Oceanarium also offers a variety of activities, from guided tours to a sleepover with sharks and even a Fado show. You can find the Oceanarium in the Parque das Nações, the more contemporary part of town, off of the Oriente metro stop. The entire site is wheelchair accessible and has a separate toilet for wheelchair users.
9. Telecabine Cable Cars. If you want to enjoy a ride in the air with the Telecabine (Cable car) in Lisbon, then you can head of towards the Parque des Nacoes (Nations Park). There you will find the Vasco da Gama shopping mall, and if you walk through this you will get to the Tagus river. Soon you will see the Cable Cars going back and forth. The cable car was finished in 1998 (built specifically for that year’s Expo) and it covers a total distance of 1.2 kilometers. At most 8 people can sit in one carrier, but wheelchair users will have more space in special cars that operators will stop for you to enter. The price is 4 Euro for one way, and if you want it to take you back and forth you will have to pay about 6 Euro. The Cable Car starts from the Oceanarium (Passeio de Neptuno) and from the Old Vascso da Gama tower (Passeio das Tágides). During the ride you can enjoy a beautiful view towards the Tagus river and you will get a very nice view of the Vasco da Gama bridge.
10. Parque Eduardo VII. Named after Britain’s Edward VII who visited the city in 1903 to reaffirm the Anglo-Portuguese alliance, this is the largest park in central Lisbon. With neatly clipped box hedging flanked by mosaic patterned walkways, Parque Eduardo VII stretches uphill from Marquês de Pombal Square to a belvedere at the top with fine views. The big attractions within the park are the two estufas, the hothouse (with the more exotic plants) and the greenhouse (“Estufa Fria”) filled with tropical plants, ponds, and endless varieties of palms and cacti. Opposite the estufas on the eastern side of the park, sits an ornately tiled sports pavillion dedicated to Carlos Lopes, the Portuguese athlete who won the marathon at the Los Angeles Olympic Games, and that doubles as a venue for occasional concerts and cultural events. The “maze” in the center can be reached via steep paved ramps; make sure you have good brakes and a charged battery before you attempt these!
Many additional amazing parts of Lisbon are only one step up, and can be accessed with a small portable ramp. Consider bringing this one (the one I use) with you the next time you travel! EZ-ACCESS Suitcase Singlefold Graphite Fiber Ramp, 51 Inch, 17 Pound
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